Sietch Nevada: Desert Oasis for a Drought-Stricken Future

by , 09/15/09

sietch, dune, water storage, aquifer, drought, water, drought, cellular cavern, cavern, underground caves, undergound city

Sietch Nevada is a futuristic concept city that envisions a dystopian water-hoarding society where drought is a constant state and wars are fought over water. Designed by Matsys Designs, the underground city is situated within a network of tunnels and caverns that offer protection and water storage, creating an oasis in the desert. The dense underground community includes a network of waterways and canals enclosed by residential and commercial cavern structures that form an underground Venice so to speak.

sietch, dune, water storage, aquifer, drought, water, drought, cellular cavern, cavern, underground caves, undergound city

If you think Sietch Nevada sounds like a city taken straight out of the novel Dune then you’re right – a Sietch is actually a cave system that served as a village for the Fremen tribal community. Matsys Designs‘ city to be located in Nevada, is a man-made underground cave system, connected together by canals that act as both as transportation passageways and irrigation canals. Deep below the city are underground aquifers which provide storage for the precious resource that the city depends on. The caverns themselves are cellular in form and connected in a honeycomb structure that is full of dense urban life.

While the life force of the city is stored underground in the aquifers, the city is powered from above. On the surface water is harvested, energy is generated, and food is grown via urban agriculture and aquaculture. From above these cellular pods seem like desert blooms filled with various elements – ponds, skylights, agriculture domes, and energy harvesters.

Sietch Nevada is a harbinger of desperate times when societies are forced to resort to voraciously storing and hoarding water – a future which may not be far off. Water shortages and droughts are already starting to become commonplace, especially in the Southwest, which relies on the waters of the Colorado River to sustain millions of people. With more and more people headed to the area every year, the Colorado and the aquifers of the region are not able to keep up. Pretty soon, we may have to resort to something like this Sietch. Perhaps it’s time to freshen up on Dune & Cadillac Desert and start preparing.

+ Matsys Designs


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  1. Save-world February 9, 2010 at 8:47 am

    I don’t think it is a priority in sustainability – you should have a look at this instead

    However it surely is an interesting use of space

  2. Liet September 17, 2009 at 6:25 pm

    That said, it’d be a fantastic design for a Martian space colony – roof off a polar crater, fill it with a honeycomb of corridors, with habitation in the spokes and glass-roofed greenhouses in the combs.

  3. Liet September 17, 2009 at 6:22 pm

    I think Abbey said it best: the desert has exactly enough water….as long as you’re not fool enough to build million-plus cities in places where mere camps and villages once sat.

    So instead of building this magnificent Dune-mall for people to live cheek by jowl in the desert, why not live in places where it actually makes sense to live, and settle the desert as densely as the local ecology and hydrology permits? Make too much sense or something?

  4. Michael Janzen September 17, 2009 at 4:52 pm

    RE: “The renderings glamorize it quite a bit”

    Exactly! You nailed it and said is so succinctly. Thanks.

    I guess that’s the double-edged sword of good design and presentation; an excellent designer can sometimes camouflage an eerie underlying story.

  5. Bridgette Meinhold September 17, 2009 at 4:29 pm

    Hey Michael,

    Appreciate your comments. It’s an incredibly interesting concept and I couldn’t help be blown away by the renderings. But yes, you’re absolutely right – if this type of city were to come to fruition, we would be in a world of hurt. The renderings glamorize it quite a bit, but if we get to the point when we need to hoard water and even live underground, it means that we have reached a point of no return. This is a design concept for a worst case scenario – one that I personally hope we never get to. This is a perfect example of geoengineering (a touchy subject for many).

    Admittedly though, I think it looks really cool. Somebody want to make a movie about it? Dune II?


  6. Michael Janzen September 17, 2009 at 12:58 pm

    RE: “The beauty of this design is that it IS somewhat of a closed loop”… exactly, a closed loop IS the problem! Building an underground self-contained environment cut off from the natural open loop the planet already provides completely disregards nature… it emulates nature yes… but it promotes man over nature, not a sustainable relationship with nature.

    RE: “filtering soil and vegetation, much like an Earthship”… funny to invoke Michael Reynolds Earthships as an example here. Earthships are human-scale systems made from recycled and easily sourced material… like dirt. An Earthship is the farthest thing from this underground city. It exists in a natural environment, in the desert, using the thermal mass of the earth to regulate temperature. They are not high-tech underground cities.

    BTW… this is a really interesting dialog because it points out how easily people can be so easily distracted by our own clever ability to conquer nature.

    This design is not some sustainable vision of the future… it is the opposite… and the article explains this in not so direct terms. It talks about a future of droughts and the need to find solutions for human survival in an increasingly difficult situation.

    To be truly sustainable we must choose to live light, simplify our lives, and live in balance with the natural environment… not separate ourselves from it and reinvent the natural environment in enormous man-made structures. If we don’t embrace the idea that living simply is the answer then the photos of the cities you see above or some sci-fi variation will be our future.

    In simple terms… fix our behavior now or learn to adapt to a world of our own creation.

  7. ChrisB September 17, 2009 at 11:05 am

    More disturbing than building cities as usual? The beauty of this design is that it IS somewhat of a closed loop, using rain and probably dew water several times (pottable to grey to irrigation or black water) before sending it to the watertable through filtering soil and vegetation, much like an Earthship. As a society, we need to fit our systems within the System as a whole, and the more closed ours can be, the easier it makes it to do that. The bleak part is that things like this probably will be necessary, mostly because of how badly we’ve managed things over the last hundred years or so.

  8. Michael Janzen September 17, 2009 at 10:51 am

    RE: “I don’t think anyone is promoting euthanasiastic population control or mind controlling drug use here.”

    LOL… thanks! Yeah maybe that is taking it too far… but this is no Montezuma’s well or any ancient southwest community which were in fact incredibly sustainable. This is a giant underground engineered mall made for living. Spooky stuff… not small urban community surrounded by natural and agricultural land.

    The benefits of building underground are not lost on me… not at all… it’s the scale some of these architects and designers make these projects. Small is sustainable… I guess I’m just a biased tiny house guy.

  9. edwardsulfaro September 17, 2009 at 2:25 am

    Sounds like a modern version of “Motezuma’s” Well.

    This could be very sustainable (since it allows a maximal use of water resources and could use site materials for building components.) I don’t think anyone is promoting euthanasiastic population control or mind controlling drug use here. Probably would take a lot less energy to be cooler underground than above ground in a/c buildings as well. Seems like an interesting avenue of thought to explore.

  10. steve5000 September 16, 2009 at 11:45 pm

    Seriously. I love how this, and similar speculative projects, promote their use on “agricultural domes” and “urban aquaculture” as if these were proven or even remotely tested technologies with any current large-scale application. It reminds me of how often the approach of academic architects is fatuous and self-indulgent and disregards the work that can and must be done to reform the existing built infrastructure of our environment.

  11. michaeljanzen September 15, 2009 at 2:56 pm

    This is a very disturbing vision of future folks. It’s really the anthesis of sustainable and green when you consider that these caves would be self contained man-made environments and not really part of any true natural environment. Visions of THX-1138 and Logon’s Run come to mind.

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